My wife says this to me last night from the other side of the couch, each of us half-heartedly watching the Warriors/Cavs game on the TV in front of us (to be fair, the Cavs were half-heartedly playing) and scanning our respective Facebook feeds. A quick Google search led me to this article from the local Mount Airy newspaper. It was true, the playground was coming down. Coming down today, in fact.
Playgrounds, like pretty much everything in life, come and go; but this playground was different. It was a dream playground. Built by the community, from the ground up. One of those companies that comes in with a tailored plan, some how-to and a way for everyone to get involved. My young family had been residents of our new town for not quite a year when the project began. We loved it, for a couple of reasons. The "park" that existed before was not just nonfunctional but downright unsightly, bringing tears to our eyes the first time we saw it. That, and the playground build was a phenomenal community-builder. There was food, there was music, it was fun. Lorie and I met lots of good folks; many would become great friends.
For those few weeks the build took place, we were all in. I spent my days off on the build. Lorie spread chips under structures, crawling around on her hands and knees, all the while pregnant with the second child we'd not told anyone about yet. My Dad even got in on the act, coming from Raleigh for a few days to help with the build and even purchasing a Lindsley fence picket to help raise funds. It was all so invigorating. And I'll never forget that moment when the playground opened for the very first time, all those kids running in with such excitement and anticipation. It literally brought tears to our eyes, for a very different reason than the time we cried there before.
For the next nine years or so, our family made the most of the park. Picnic lunches and playdates and afternoon excursions. The last couple of times we were there, I began to notice some of the wear and tear on a playground much loved, but assumed it could all be repaired. Twelve years after its inception, though, wood had been rotting. Some parts of the playground were not even functional anymore. It had gone from attraction to eyesore, in the same way perhaps that its predecessor had once appeared to me.
It's so funny as I think about this. I am a pastor, and being a pastor in the 21st century means I have to help my church realize that it cannot simply keep doing what it's always done. My job is to strategically and pastorally steer the church through change, nudging when nudging is needed and holding hands when that's needed. My job is to work with our leadership to build a dream of our own of what we think God wants to see for our future.
And yet my initial reaction when I heard the news about the Build A Dream playground was NOOO! Even though I didn't live there anymore. Even though I hadn't seen it in three years and had no idea of its condition. In my mind, at least, what I continued to see was that brand new sparkling playground of twelve years ago that was a source of pride for so many. But more than that - what I remember was the palatable sense of community in those early halcyon days, a bond forged with people I knew and didn't know, the joy and satisfaction that comes when you are part of something bigger than yourself.
Memory and community are incredibly powerful forces of human nature. They connect us to something other than right now; they bestow meaning and significance on that which otherwise would simply be a collage of events and an assortment of people. Memory and community answer the critical question of "why" in our relationships with each other. They are portals through which you and I extend outside ourselves and into the world around us. Memory and community grant meaning to things, and that is why our traditions and history matter. They tell us where we have come from and who we are so we can hope to have a clue to know where we're going. Memory and community are sacred.
It is time, hard to let go though, a friend of mine texted, commiserating. But she added - how excited the new families and young kids will be!
And that's it, right there. When you're able to acknowledge that change is loss and grieve that, and simultaneously embrace and celebrate the new thing that is coming, that is when you know that you've truly grasped a full sense of memory and community.
It's the best of both worlds, really. I'll always be able to remember the Build A Dream playground. My friend graciously snagged our Lindsley fence picket, as the city was putting them aside for folks to claim all this week. We'll eventually get it from her and do something with it, even if that something is nothing more than remembering.
But while we remember the dream that was, we get to know that a new one will unfold, and a new community birthed through it. And from that community - new memories made, new friendships forged, new vision revealed. It starts all over again, until it ends, and then it'll start again too.
Here's hoping those new families get to enjoy themselves in the same way mine once did. Here's hoping we all can maneuver the sacredness of memory and community with grace, with hope and with gratitude, building a new dream all over again.